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Mocavo

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Graphics in Genealogy Programs -- a review

One of the attractive features of genealogy programs since Personal Ancestral File (PAF) version 5.2, is the ability to attach specific graphic files to a source. For example, attaching a digitized copy of a death certificate to the source for the death date and place. The advantage of attaching copies of the original documents is manifest. You can refer to the copy without going to some external file either digital or paper. Because I have such a huge number of graphic source files, I am really interested in how any particular program handles these files. Below is a comparison of some of the programs I have access to. I have limited my comments to those programs for which I have current updated copies. I realize that there are many more programs out there that may have different functions. I would appreciate comments, particularly about other programs that may handle media items in very useful way.

Because of the large accumulation of graphic files on my computers, one of first things I look at in any genealogy program is the way it handles graphics. Going back to the venerable PAF program, graphics were, at the time, a recent innovation. PAF 5.2 has not been updated since 2002 and even though it is still a widely used program, it obviously lacks many features of the newer, more supported programs. The most pervasive problem with PAF 5.2 was that any time a graphic file was moved to a different file location on the host computer or a data file was moved or a copy made for sharing, the operating system path to the media items was lost and you had to re-establish a new path. Adding media files or reestablishing connections was (and is) tedious. Each file had to be added separately and only certain fields could have sources at all. For example, if you had one source for a birth date and another source for the birth place, there is still only one place in PAF to record a source for the birth place and there is no option to add a specific source for the date. Also to attach a media file, you had to click through about five different levels of menus. There is also no comprehensive list of media or any way to tell which records are using which media items. Of course, none of these problems existed at the time PAF 5.2 was released. However, since PAF has not changed for about eight years, there have been a lot of innovations in the use of media files with genealogy programs.

Some of the programs I have used since PAF have about the same level of development for media. Because of the relationship between PAF and Ancestral Quest (AQ) AQ uses a very similar system. AQ does allow you to specify an additional location in the file structure if items are moved or need to be updated. AQ also adds the ability to update all of the links to scrapbook objects at the same time, thereby hopefully avoiding the process of linking each item separately. There are some improvements over the old PAF program, but the process is essentially the same.

RootsMagic expands on the scrapbook idea by having a Media Album that can add items from a Media Gallery that is essentially thumbnails of everything you have in your Windows' file folder. In addition, RootsMagic also allows you to have a specific media item for any event. Graphic items need to be attached individually to each event, which can be a slow process if you have multiple graphics for any one event. RootMagic's Media Gallery is a big improvement over PAF's scrapbook. If you have a lot of media items, such as hundreds of photographs, it would be advisable to have a very fast computer as the Media Gallery could take a long time to load. The program does a good job of finding all of the media files, but if you have moved the files around on your computer, you may have to find them manually. You can also search and replace to make mass changes to your database, including links to multimedia items.

One of the reasons I have used Legacy Family Tree in the past is because of the graphics capability. Legacy has its Picture Center, which lists all the pictures in your selected file and then allows you to attach a picture by simply highlighting an individual and then highlighting the picture and clicking an attach button. There is also an attached pictures list which allows an individual image to be attached to more than one individual. While you are clicking on the photos in the file, there is a thumbnail view of the picture.

Family Tree Maker has a well developed media center also. One of the major problems is that the program will not add media items in a group. Each item must be added individually. In my case, when first using the program, I had to search for and identify each media item, even though they all resided in the same file on my computer. This can be very discouraging with hundreds of media items. On the other hand, Family Tree Maker has an integrated method to capture images and even whole web pages from the Internet, automatically linking them to a specific fact or individual.

It isn't really fair to compare the Mac programs to the PC programs. Both MacFamilyTree and Reunion allow drag and drop addition of media to their files. MacFamilyTree also supports direct import from iPhoto. All you have to do to add a photo or other media file to either program is find the file on your computer and drag the item into the media folder for any source for any event for any person in the file.

As media becomes more pervasive in genealogy, it is not difficult to see that future developments in genealogy software will have to be more and more media friendly. Although there are a lot of different criteria for choosing a genealogy program, one of my most important ones, is the programs ability to use media items effectively and easily. As you can probably tell, my Macintosh background unavoidably prejudices me to Mac based programs. But I use PC programs because, as of yet, the Mac programs lag behind in some areas, like sources. Maybe with the entry of Family Tree Maker into the Mac market, there will be additional competition and the programs will begin developing in competitive ways, like they have on the PC platform.

As I said above, I certainly invite comments. I do not pretend to have a lock on any of the programs mentioned here and I am always open to learn about new ones or old ones that I haven't tried out.

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